It’s an obscure mystery in the annals of World War II history.
How did Utah and Omaha beaches — two chunks of French sand that were the scenes of the best-known day in American military history — get their code names?
A Midwestern family believes they discovered the answer in an old notebook found after their patriarch, Gayle Eyler, died in Nebraska in 2003. He was 81.
Seventy years ago, Eyler —from a little Iowa town across the river from Omaha, Neb. — was a carpenter in the U.S. Army, working for D-Day ground troops commander Gen. Omar Bradley.
And there was another carpenter working with Eyler — a sergeant named "Sam," according to the notebook. No one knows that carpenter’s last name. But Eyler’s writing was clear on one thing: he was from Provo, Utah.
Eyler claims Bradley named Utah and Omaha beaches after the carpenters’ places of origin because they were instrumental in preparing a London headquarters for invasion planners.
It’s a story no one has been able to definitively refute or confirm since Allied forces landed at five Normandy beaches — code-named Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno and Gold — on June 6, 1944.
Grant Stanfield, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who teaches military history at the University of Utah, emphasized that the Eyler account has never been substantiated.
"My understanding is that the beaches were named with radio clarity in mind," Stanfield wrote in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune. "The names are random."
One thing could verify — or debunk — Eyler’s story: finding Sam.
"We’ve tried," said Jim Eyler, Gayle Eyler’s son. "Nobody was successful. We just couldn’t find this individual."
• Class assignment
In the years after World War II, Gayle Eyler said almost nothing about his time in the Army. He never told his children about serving under Bradley or working in the command headquarters, Jim Eyler said in an interview Thursday.
About the only thing the elder Eyler said of his wartime service was that he had shrapnel inside of him and that, after D-Day, he was on a Normandy beach with other soldiers when a German jet — one of the first in aviation — flew overhead. Gayle Eyler, according to the short story he told his children, hunkered down in a panic but was not fired upon.
Then a few months before his death, Jim Eyler’s son asked his grandfather to help him with a high school class assignment. The teenager asked his grandfather to write something about his war experience.
A short time later, Jim Eyler said, Gayle Eyler slipped on some ice and broke some bones. Jim Eyler said he and his son didn’t follow up on the class assignment. Then doctors discovered Gayle Eyler had cancer.
It wasn’t until after Gayle Eyler’s death that his family found the notebook. Jim Eyler said he was going to throw it away but decided to flip through the pages first. The handwritten recollections Gayle Eyler had penned for his grandson were on unattached pages that fell from the notebook and onto the floor.
It was the first time the family read or heard details about Gayle Eyler’s time in the war and his story about how Omaha and Utah beaches received their code names.
• Headquarters in a hurry
Planning for an invasion against Germany began in Britain as early as 1940. The planning intensified almost as soon as the United States entered the war, according to the book "D-Day," by historian Martin Gilbert.
In late 1943, Bradley was chosen to lead the 1st Army for the invasion. Gayle Eyler, according to his written account, was a carpenter on Bradley’s staff.Next Page >
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